Despite more than a year gone by, a relatively successful season, and 3,000 miles separating the two, the University of Oregon and Willie Taggart just can't quit each other.
This past week, two of the three Ducks hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis following a series of grueling offseason workouts in 2017 filed lawsuits totaling nearly $17 million against the NCAA, University of Oregon, then-strength coach Irele Oderinde and, yes, Willie Taggart.
Offensive linemen Doug Brenner and Sam Poutasi are seeking damages due to what they and their attorneys deem negligence on the part of the university and coaches involved, in addition to the NCAA's inability to enact and enforce regulations that outlaw the kinds of "punishing and abusive workouts" responsible for their hospitalization. Brenner, in various interviews last week, reiterated his love for the university, but he cited the need for regulation, along with a desire to "save other football players from serious injury," as his primary motivation for his suit.
Taggart and Oderinde's workouts were, by players' accounts, designed to "find the snakes in the grass and cut their heads off," following a disappointing season that saw the Ducks finish with their worst record in 25 years.
Rhabdomyolysis is a syndrome in which muscles break down with "leakage into the blood stream of muscle contents," according to the NCAA sports medicine handbook. It can be triggered after a spike in intensity of an athlete's exercise and by overexertion. Brenner, Poutasi and a third member of the team, Cam McCormick, exhibited symptoms consistent with the syndrome, including agonizing arm pain, discolored urine and elevated levels of creatine kinase, another indicator of the syndrome. All ended up in the hospital.
Brenner, in his lawsuit, claims to have suffered irreparable damage to his kidneys as a result of the workouts, to the extent of a loss of up to 10 years from his life expectancy.
Taggart has yet to comment on the legal action, and he likely won't. He's at Florida State, where he and his head strength coach — yep, Oderinde — are trying to put back the pieces of a once-proud Seminoles football program, following a 5-7 record in which Taggart stewarded the Noles to their first season ending without a bowl appearance in 36 years.
No applause necessary.
But while there's no love lost between the residents of Oregon and the coach who unceremoniously left after just a year at the helm in Eugene, this isn't simply a Taggart problem, but a much more widespread issue that, for unthinkable reasons, simply won't go away.
Life is precious. It's not to be wasted, and it's certainly not to be thrown away as the result of a "snake hunt." Toughness, in most cases, is innate — you either have it or you don't. But in some cases it can be an acquired skill and it certainly behooves coaches to instill it in their team and its players whenever possible. But to what extent and at what cost? Certainly not life.
Oddly, Brenner, Poutasi and McCormick are the lucky ones. Despite their injuries and the potential ramifications of them down the road, they're still here. Maryland's Jordan McNair can't say the same.
McNair died last summer from heatstroke as a result of similarly negligent activity by Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin and his strength coach, Rick Court. While participating in conditioning drills in extreme heat and humidity, McNair's symptoms were not treated accordingly, and as a result, the 19-year-old died a truly avoidable death. Various reports have concluded that lowering McNair's core temperature by simply sitting him in a cool tub would likely have saved his life. In fact, experts have stated that heatstroke is 100 percent survivable if recognized and properly treated within five to 10 minutes.
You'd think trainers hired by universities and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year would know that, along with requiring appropriate safety measures be present during the types of activities prone to accidents of McNair and Brenner's stature. Right?
And that's where the NCAA, schools like the University of Oregon and coaches like Taggart are going wrong. When dealing with the lives you been entrusted to by parents of students and the athletes these schools recruit, it isn't asking too much to take the necessary precautions to protect them in the best way possible — is it? Of course not, but for reasons beyond me, the NCAA continues to enact paper regulations and fails to enforce them, the schools continue to allow their coaches to operate without oversight, and those same coaches indirectly use ignorance as a crutch in the wake of tragedies like McNair's, and near misses like Brenner, Poutasi and McCormick's.
That may cost them millions, but let's hope lives and the long-term quality of them are no longer tender for the nonsensical behavior of them all.
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